Strangely, during the Second World War, on the remote islands of Tristan da Cunha – a British Overseas Territory and dependency of St. Helena – the islanders actually used the humble potato as a form of currency!
And in 2015 a stamp sheet was issued, the ‘Potato Essays’, commemorating the title of a set of 9 stamp designs submitted to the British government in 1946 as part of a petition for postage stamps to be introduced to the island. The border of the 2015 sheetlet depicts some of the designer’s early sketches.
The man responsible for the designs was Allan Crawford (1912-2007). Allan Crawford first went to Tristan da Cunha in 1937 when he joined the Norwegian Scientific Expedition whilst on a trip from Southampton to South Africa.
On later visits to the island as a meteorologist he realised there was a demand for stamps from philatelists and passing ships from the so called ‘Loneliest Inhabited Island in the World’ and decided to develop and produce a stamp or ‘sticker’ for the islanders to place on the outside of their letters. Due to the fact he had little work to do in the peace-time weather headquarters, he enlisted the help of the department’s draughtsman, Sgt. Jimmy Brown and they worked together to produce some rough designs. As they did not have the required permission to use the King George head on them they used the British Union Flag. The islanders also had no money so would not be able to purchase them. However, during WW2, they had used potatoes as currency, with 4 potatoes equalling 1 old penny (1d) so this currency was added to the designs.
They came up with 9 designs and Crawford had 20,000 penny sheets made, each stamp depicted a penguin and its value was 1d (4 potatoes) printed in red in sheets of 35 stamps by Hortors Ltd. of Johannesburg, South Africa. The stamp/sticker soon achieved fame as a souvenir from passing ships and collectors throughout the world and was nicknamed the potato stamp.
However, the petition for stamps was refused and it wasn’t until 1952 that overprinted Tristan da Cunha on St Helena definitive stamps were used as the islands’ first postage stamps.
Tristan Da Cunha lies 2,816 kilometres (1,750 miles) from South Africa and 3,360 kilometres (2,088 miles) from South America. The closest land mass is Saint Helena a mere 2,430 kilometres (1,510 miles) distant.
Tristan was first discovered in 1506 by the Portuguese sailor Tristão da Cunha. However, Tristão was unable to land on Tristan because of accessibility difficulties and rough seas. Despite this, Tristão named the island ‘Ilha de Tristão da Cunha’ – roughly translated as ‘The Islands of Tristão da Cunha’. The name was changed to Tristan Da Cunha at a later date.
Tristan da Cunha’s capital (and most populated city) is ‘Edinburgh of the Seven Seas’, more commonly called Edinburgh. In 2005, the Royal Mail assigned Tristan the postcode of TDCU 1ZZ. This was for two reasons:
– the mail was getting lost because the island had no postcode; and
– the capital was being confused with the Scottish city of Edinburgh.
Above, four stamps from recently-issued 12-value definitive set featuring ships used over the years to deliver mail/supplies to the islands.
The territory consists of a number of islands – Tristan Da Cunha (38 square miles approximately), the uninhabited Nightingale Islands, and the wildlife reserves of Inaccessible Island and Gough Island.
Below: when decimal currency was introduced in Britain in 1971, these overprints were introduced.